By Julie Dalton, Platt Builders
It may have been unusually frigid outside at last month’s PRO Remodelers Conference and Expo, but one meeting room inside the Verve in Natick was welcoming and warm – and filled with nearly one hundred PRO members willing to lean into a spirited conversation about workplace safety. At one time, “workplace safety” may have meant nothing more than OSHA rules and regulations and societal manners, but today, as evidenced by the conversation, we define it much differently.
This conversation began with what we are doing as women in the remodeling industry, how to get more women into the industry, and how to keep them in the industry. It turned into one about awareness, diversity, internal and external identities, and the need for mindfulness as it pertains to ourselves and others. Moderated by the ever-elegant and astute Allison Iantosca of FH Perry Builder, the panel of Laura Burns of Adams + Beasley, Amanda LaRose of Studio Bowerbird, and Xiomara Garcia of FH Perry Builder gave us a glimpse at just how difficult (yet important!) it is to create an atmosphere where all feel welcome, seen, and safe in the workplace.
As women in a traditionally male-dominated industry, we strive to strike a balance between our specialness as women and a “not a big deal that I’m a woman in this industry” mindset. It was stated that our generation of women is so busy proving women can do everything a man can do that we could turn away from the very same God-given, traditionally-female characteristics that make women in this industry so valuable. Those important emotions, perspectives, and talents that we celebrate a woman bringing to a job site or project are the very same ones that can lead to unnecessary questioning and division – which can lead to a never-ending cycle of downplaying the very same female-ness that we are trying to celebrate. That fine line turns blurry very quickly.
So how do we make this industry and our own workplaces more inclusive? The sense of belonging is a basic human need and something that can feel elusive for some employees in a company where others feel fundamentally welcomed. This is where the concept of workplace “microaggressions” was introduced into the Friday conversation. Difficult to define since what I may find offensive is not hurtful to another. You may remember I’m a middle child constantly trying to prove myself! According to an Indeed article from April 2022 by Rebecca Stevenson, a professional in Australia, “(for minority groups,) the term ‘microaggression’ may be all too familiar. But for those in the cultural majority, the term is often unknown or misunderstood, which leads to an ongoing cycle of microaggressions affecting minority groups on a daily basis.” Another way to say that is “if you always fit in, you can’t see how something may leave others out…which makes them feel even more left out.” Recognizing our own roles in what we find offensive (or “microaggressive”) can heal some, but not all, of our own negative reactions within the workplace environment – be it a job site or office. Perhaps recognizing that others’ experiences may make seemingly harmless comments or attitudes traumatizing to them can start to heal the rest of those negative reactions.
It is true that all of us are going through this world with very different experiences. Eric Adams of Adams + Beasley eloquently pointed out that celebrating diversity as a mechanism for creating a robust, lively environment is crucial to the conversation about workplace safety. While we didn’t get to the bottom of actually defining workplace safety: is it physical safety? Is it mental safety? Is it intellectual safety? we can deduce from the conversation that a key to all of the above forms of safety comes from being curious about another’s experiences. Leaning into one another creates more unity than the division our different experiences may create. And maybe knowing a bit about each other can eliminate offenses and help us feel like we belong. As Walt Whitman said (and is brilliantly depicted in Season 1, Episode 8 of the award-winning Ted Lasso), “Be curious, not judgmental.” If we are curious, we could learn a little more about each other’s internal and external identities that could knit us together more.
The monthly PRO Women in Remodeling conversation typically takes place via Zoom and is open to all women who are members of PRO. Allison begins each conversation with the very poignant and heartfelt message that “wherever you are is where you are supposed to be, and we welcome your voice.” Consider joining in the monthly conversation and celebrating with us all that an organization like PRO is doing to keep us moving forward.
Sidenote: as advocated by Halsey Platt of Platt Builders, this conversation was approved to earn you credits toward your continuing education. If you were present and need credits, be sure to submit for them.